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The History and Philosophy of Wing Chun Kung Fu

The History and Philosophy of Wing Chun Kung Fu

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Published by: Krystyan Keller on Jun 02, 2013
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The History and Philosophy of Wing Chun Kung Fu

In the Beginning. The deep nature of our own species, and those that preceded us in evolution, includes competition, violence, and killing. Prehistoric men no doubt fought one another for dominance, food, mating rights, and survival. The dawn of a structured or scientific approach to fighting no doubt occurred with the first primitive man to pick up a stick with which to strike an enemy or prey. Conflict and warfare form pivotal events in human history. Arguably, many ancient rituals, sports and ceremonies are reenactments of battles in one form or another. The Olympic Games held by the ancient Greeks were regarded as a religious festival, during which war was suspended. The Epic of Gilgamesh, written down in about the eighteenth century B.C. in Mesopotamia, one of the earliest centres of civilisation, shows that most weapons of war had been invented by then, the major exception being explosives, which were to be invented by the Chinese almost 2800 years later. Gilgamesh, a hero of Uruk in Babylonia, fought with axe, sword, bow and arrow, and spear. His contemporaries used battering rams against enemy cities, and rode to battle in chariots. The concept of a martial art or science of combat no doubt developed along with civilisation. Organised warfare required trained and disciplined soldiers, and generals and instructors to command and train them. The earliest accepted evidence of a martial art exists in two small Babylonian works of art dating back to between 2000 and 3000 B.C., each showing two men in postures of combat. Whilst there is almost no other evidence to support the hypothesis that martial arts originated in Babylonia and Mesopotamia, and were carried eastward to India and China, there is evidence that trade took place between the Harappa culture of Northern India and the Mesopotamians as early as 2500 B.C. Also, there is evidence that a particular design of bronze axe was in use over a vast area including parts of Europe and China around 1300 B.C. There is also evidence that the performances of acrobats from India and the eastern Mediterranean regions were enjoyed by the Chinese. The martial arts and performing arts have had a long tradition of association in the East, mirroring the similarity between the movements of acrobats and martial artists. While the case for the origin of martial arts in Mesopotamia is speculative, there is no doubt that they first appeared in the East in a primitive form, and it was in India and China that their development into the intricate and sophisticated systems of recent times took place. Martial Arts in China. The development of martial arts in China is inextricably linked with the development of Chinese medicine, and of the major religious and philosophical systems which underpin all aspects of life in historical China. The martial and healing arts have always had a close relationship, of necessity when the wounds resulting from combat required healing, and in the use of medical knowledge to develop more effective targeting and striking techniques. Martial arts through the ages were practiced as much for health and longevity as they were for aggression and defence, and indeed the Shaolin arts were based on movements originally developed for health reasons.

starvation. At age 51. and was passed down through generations. and evolved into the modern sport of Sumo.280 Chinese words called the Tao Te Ching (The Way and the Power). unsuccessful. which were to have a huge impact on Chinese culture. Yin-Hsi. was born in Honan around 604 BC. and was confronted with the disease. and the family fell on hard times. resulting in his starting a thirteen year ministry attempting to disseminate his political. was an Indian Prince. The streets were filled with starving beggars and littered with the bodies of the dead or dying. Shocked to the bone by what he saw. and from there came he formed the basis of his teachings. his major purpose in education was to teach and develop a way of harmonious living and interaction with one’s fellows. that . however. will be discussed more fully in a later section. Lao Tzu. One day he ventured into the city. the I Ching (book of Changes) and the Analects.) Confucius was born to a noble family in the state of Lu in what is now Shantung.2 Nearly five thousand years ago. and Huang-Ti. suffering and death which filled his kingdom. and spread throughout the land. surrounded by the luxuries of the time. the developer of Taoism. Though self-educated. he lived a rich and pampered life in the splendour of palaces and courtyards. and those of Confucius and the Buddha. also called Guatama or Siddhartha. unaware of the often desperate and miserable circumstances in which the vast majority of his subjects dwelt. Confucius was born around 550 BC. the gatekeeper. the three legendary emperors laid the ground work for a nationalised system of Chinese medicine for the populace. attempting to come to terms with this shattering revelation. It is theorised also that Go-Ti was exported to Japan during the Tang Dynasty (610-907 AD). maybe Confucius didn’t write all or any of them). through rules and standards of propriety and behaviour. and at age 160 (according to legend) he left the kingdom on a wagon drawn by a black ox. Some historians dispute the authorship of these documents (i. is still regarded as a standard text by many contemporary schools of acupuncture and Oriental healing. and philosophical beliefs. It taught a philosophy of living harmoniously with the ways of nature. The sport became popular. The Buddha. The originators of the great Chinese philosophies all lived around the same time. sent healers out to care for the people. in which two men wore horns on their heads and attempted to gore each other. The “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” a book on the principles of Chinese medicine.e. When he reached Han-Ku pass. this would be the earliest documented export of Chinese martial arts. with less blood spilled. At age 68. the Yellow Emperor. and the Buddha around 506 BC. he became disillusioned by the existing political tyranny. attributed to Huang-Ti but more likely written by others much later. born approximately 506 BC As a youth. but their fundamental role in Chinese culture is indisputable. returning to one’s essence and of acting only in accordance with the Way. he spent days alone (five days beneath the Bodhi tree). (The philosophical basis of the teachings of Lao Tzu. he became Minister for Justice in Lu. mention is made of a form of ritualised wrestling called Go-Ti. but his attempts to spread his doctrines were met with indifference or distain by his superiors. Emperor Fu Hsi first proposed such a system. Like many of his compatriots. Around this time. Emperor Shun Nung developed a classification of herbs for use in healing. he began to write the classic documents such as the Spring and Autumn annals. The result was a short but enormously profound and influential document of 5. he devoted himself to teaching and a quest to eliminate illiteracy. Legend has it that Lao Tzu worked in the imperial palace during the Chou Dynasty as custodian of the imperial archives. social. Go-Ti is performed today. asked him to leave a record of his teachings. He found himself unable to accept his experiences as reality. His father died when Confucius was three. traditionally at festivals in Honan and Manchuria.

China did not exist as a nation. Sun Tzu was the most famous of these. War was seen as an occupation of the nobility. and weapon techniques. with populations as large as 750. This changed warfare from an occupation of the ruling class to a professional activity undertaken by professional soldiers and officers. During the closing years of the Han Dynasty. and a chapter on fighting skills. and the prevention of the symptoms of old age. In his book. whose work The Art of War. Gradually the smaller states were assimilated by larger ones. perhaps with small armies of peasants. this work contained chapters on governmental aspects of occupation (during war). Occasionally warlords would resort to single combat before their armies to decide a particular issue. training and deployment of much larger armies. independent states. and larger cities were formed. with the Taoist monks practising various types of exercise. The expansion of the bureaucracy of government at this time allowed for feasible equipping. signals. The territory now known as the People’s Republic of China was made up of a large number of minor. made a major contribution to the development of martial arts. introducing a series of exercises based on the movements of animals. instead emphasising subsequent lives and the eventual deliverance from the eternal cycle of life and suffering which is human existence. and nothing is real. prohibited in certain seasons or circumstances. Soldiers might languish for days or weeks while oracles were consulted or a favourable omen awaited prior to an attack. and meditation. The lords would be driven to the battlefield in chariots.220 AD). deer. While the seeds of higher philosophies were being sown.000. teaching. Dr Hua To. Shou Pu. based on movements of the tiger. to promote blood circulation. is said to have influenced Mao Tse-Tung. such as engineering. generally operating under feudal rule. New specialist skills. The itinerant life of such bodyguards would have brought them into contact with others in the same profession from all over the country. freedom from sickness. Hua To described a system of exercises he called the Frolic of the Five Animals. with tools and weapons of high quality iron among the items exchanged. War was a highly ritualised activity.. Pan Kuo (32-92 AD) write the Han Su I Wen Chih. bear. The small scale close combat encountered by such bodyguards would have suited a career martial artist perfectly. or Han Book of the Arts. Trade flourished between these centres.3 human existence is an illusion. allowing for a constant interchange of martial ideas and techniques. principles in nature. breathing. Before 500 BC. the doctrines of Taoism spread and flourished. battlefield strategy. Around the time of the Warring States period (490-221 BC). as well as being widely read by ambitious people in other walks of life. Meanwhile. and remains a standard text for military officers. a brilliant tactician and strategist. such as after the demise of a particular leader. a low-grade steel was perfected. The Chinese countryside was rife with gangs of bandits and outlaws. Merchants enticed by the large profits possible from interstate trade would have employed bodyguards to protect themselves and their wares. and mapmaking became viable occupations for these career soldiers. . allowing the rulers to equip their soldiers with weapons made in foundries and stored in arsenals. which was written around 350 BC. His teachings and doctrine proposed a disregard for self and materialism. But combat was not solely the province of the rulers and the military. with skirmishes being fought between local warlords. He left the palace and travelled widely. including hand. foot. feeding. During the Han Dynasty(206 BC . a famous surgeon. warfare itself continued. to fire arrows on the peasant armies of their rivals. monkey and bird.

The head abbot.D. including 500 fighting monks. in Honan Province near Mount Sung. whose leaves were used by the monks to keep them awake. the story of Bodhidharma is seminal to the history of Buddhism. around 700 BC. Bodhidharma devised three sets of exercises. where he reportedly sat facing a wall for nine years. together with the land and buildings to support. After leaving the emperor. and indeed. becoming the systems of Kung-fu and other Asian martial Arts we practise today. and an excellent warrior in superb physical condition. seeking enlightenment through direct experience. The first Shaolin Temple was built in approximately 495 A. One painting of Bodhidharma dating from the thirteenth century has one of the monks cutting off his own hand as a symbolic gesture of sympathy for Bodhidharma’s spiritual commitment during his stay in the cave.4 Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Temple. It was built by Emperor Hsaio Wen. Fang Chang. although there were Buddhist historians of prodigious written output around the Temple much earlier than this. The grateful emperor attempted to persuade the thirteen to take up positions in his court. As there was now peace. The monks. However. At the height of its prosperity. for the purpose of housing Buddhist monks who were charged with the task of translating the Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese. modified many of the exercises to form systems of weaponless self-defence. Around 520 AD. “listening to the ants scream”. casting them to the ground. Legend has it that the intensity of his gaze bored a hole in the cave’s wall. As with many episodes in the history of Kung Fu. Detailed accounts of his exploits only started to appear in the eleventh century. and became so enraged that he ripped off his eyelids. and he was welcomed into their ranks in the Shaolin Temple. the Shaolin Temple. The monks at the temple were most interested in his teachings. emphasising correct breathing and bending and stretching of the body. . The Emperor T’ai Tsung of the Tang dynasty first endowed the temple with the right to train a fighting force of monk/soldiers.. there are doubts among historians regarding the truth of the stories about Bodhidharma. who were in constant physical danger from outlaws and robbers. From them immediately sprang tea shrubs. as noble as such a project might be. in accordance with the wishes of the Emperor. He was the son of an Indian King. who sought to make the scriptures available to the people in their native tongue. To improve their health and assist their meditation. Bodhidharma’s method instead involved meditative practices. were often unable to stay awake during his lectures. but disagreed with him that Nirvana could be achieved by good deeds (the translations of the scriptures) performed by others in the Emperor’s name. whether he actually existed. but who were forbidden by their religious code to carry weapons. Further legend has it that Bodhidharma once fell asleep while meditating. In danger at one time. as a means of achieving Nirvana for himself. he asked for help from the temple and thirteen monks went to his aid. and refused him entrance. who make no mention of him. and Kung Fu. an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma journeyed from India to China. at first viewed him as a foreign meddler and upstart. stating that their martial arts’ primary purposes were to promote the monks’ health and to protect the Temple and its surrounding society. Bodhidharma instead took up residence in a nearby cave. The monks were soundly impressed with his religious discipline and commitment. the temple had a complement of around 1500 monks. such as Hsuan-Tsang in the seventh century. but the monks declined. but due to their sedentary lives and poor diet and physical condition. Bodhidharma then went to the Shaolin temple. He visited Emperor Wen.

intricate forms.) The Manchus invaded China in 1644.often. The Shaolin grandmasters recognised that this approach was unsuitable for the rapid development of a fighting force. interest in them based to a large degree on the heroic exploits of the Shaolin monks. Ming soldiers and sympathisers donned monk’s robes and shaved their heads.5 they were no longer required. Leung Bok Cho and Jee Sin play a pivotal role in the art’s development. became both a sanctuary for Ming rebels and a centre for revolutionary planning and training. who were thus also restricted in their actions and ability to undertake revolutionary activities. These included forbidding the Hans to carry weapons. including lectures by Sifu Rick Spain. Temples were subjected to numerous sackings and burnings.D. the writings of Grandmaster William Cheung and writings purported to be those of Grandmaster Yip Man. and beginning the Ching (Qing) dynasty. The Shaolin Temple. through which Wong Wa Bo. restricting their opportunities within the civil service. as China’s rule remained in the hands of competing groups and dynasties. This state of affairs continued up to the fall of the Ming Dynasty in the seventeenth century A. spreading their knowledge as they went. the martial arts expanded and evolved. The emperor then permitted them to increase the size of their fighting force to 500. The circumstances leading to the marriage of Yim Wing Chun and Leung Bok Cho have been described in several different ways by different members of the WWCKFA. they were skilled in dramatic storytelling. but trained for war within the temple grounds and plotted the overthrow of the Manchus. Other temples were built. They began to develop a new system of Kung Fu based on human biomechanics rather than the movements of animals. fables and legends . with monks fleeing to other areas. and building or rebuilding temples. I discuss alternative versions of events to those set down here in Appendix A. and the practice of binding the feet of women. Wing Chun. The military and merchant classes also added to the spread and evolution of the art. I write this assuming that the truth of history lies as much in each historian’s interpretation as in the objective events. Over the next thousand years. based on real individuals and events rather than on the smaller details of objective fact. but that if the need arose again they would make themselves available. as a minority of the population. distilling the enormous and . as operatic artists. It is perhaps prudent to remember that. and often became havens for anti-dynastic and revolutionary activity of various sorts. rendering them totally dependent on their husbands and menfolk. The combat systems then taught in the temple were based on animal movements and required the progressive mastery of tens and hundreds of long. (Note: It is almost impossible to determine a definitive history of Wing Chun Kung Fu. It may also be prudent to remember that the cultural basis of humanity’s greatest endeavours is based on grand myths. and she may be as much a legendary as a real figure. taking fifteen to twenty years. The occupation force. introduced a number of repressive measures to control the indigenous Han population. She figured extensively in the lore and performances of the Red Junk Opera Company. and that many of the best stories have their basis in fact. ending the Ming dynasty. The enigmatic Ng Mui is used by a number of styles of Kung Fu besides Wing Chun to explain their origin. which as a Buddhist institution was revered and regarded with religious awe by the invaders.

and settled in this remote area. and that if he could defeat her. saw this as a fait accompli and agreed. Mui Min. The five went their separate ways. Ng Mui’s immediate inclination was to fight off the gangster herself. The techniques would need to allow Wing Chun to overcome the gangster. to continue to develop her Kung Fu after her marriage. laughing. who had sworn to take her as his wife. However. The gangster. some only marginally useful. Shortly thereafter. by Ng Mui. He fell in love with this beautiful and skilful young woman. Some accounts have it that the system was named after Yim Wing Chun. after that of the training hall. Ng Mui developed a single dummy on which all 108 dummy movements could be practised. and soon. but were heavily outnumbered. With only months in which to train Yim Wing Chun. He stayed at an inn next to Yim Yee’s shop. Ng Mui eventually left the White Crane Temple. As the 108 dummies of the Shaolin temple no longer existed. named after the Springtime (Wing Chun) training hall in the temple. Instead. where they would eventually encounter members of the Red Junk Opera Company. and more experienced than she.Bak Mei. of the animal systems into an essential core of techniques which would turn an average trainee into a skilled fighter in five years rather than twenty-five. from whom she was still a fugitive. travelling far and wide. with Yim Yee’s approval.6 disparate variety of techniques. Wing Chun was a beautiful young woman. The Manchus heard of the revolutionary role of the Temple. direct and effective techniques and training methods in her instruction. the butterfly swords. she would journey to a nearby village for provisions including bean curd (tofu). Before leaving. but it seems she may also have been given that name. a master of Eagle Claw Kung Fu. and witnessed Wing Chun practising her Kung Fu beside the tofu grinders. which she bought from a shopkeeper named Yim Yee (or Yim Say) and his daughter. As the Manchus had outlawed the carrying of weapons by the populace. who was bigger. Yim Yee and his daughter had fled Fatshan province before impending wrongful arrest by the Manchus. . Yim Wing Chun. but realised that such action was likely to attract the attention of the Manchus. Only five escaped . and had attracted the unwanted attentions of a brutal gang leader. she would be his. selling the bean curd for a living. One day Ng Mui entered the shop to find the young girl in tears. and to help continue the struggle against the Manchus to restore the Ming dynasty. Wing Chun and Leung Bok Cho moved back to Shangxi. which were easy to conceal in knee-length boots. stronger. while a traitorous monk set fires within. she made Wing Chun promise to adhere to the Kung Fu traditions. Ng Mui took refuge in the distant White Crane Temple in Yunnan. thus allowing her to defend herself and her honour. Fung Do Dak. she was ready. and. the disgraced gangster left and never returned. their lives were not yet free from trouble. Ng Mui undertook to teach the girl combat techniques. Periodically. Jee Sin and the nun Ng Mui. Soundly beaten. were chosen as the system’s only weapons. The system was called Wing Chun. Ng Mui took Yim Wing Chun back to the temple with her. Then they moved to Siu Hing. they were married. when the gangster returned. Leung Bok Cho had been a student of Kung Fu at the Honan Shaolin Temple. The monks fought bravely. Wing Chun told the gangster that she would fight him in one year. a salt (or silk) merchant from Shangxi named Leung Bok Cho visited the area. the alternative meaning of the name being “Hope for the Future”). Ng Mui concentrated only on the most essential. but soon moved on to northern Guangdong to escape constant fighting between bandits and soldiers. and surrounded it. Yim Wing Chun trained day and night.

It was in Guangdong that he heard of the Red Junk Opera Company. tight techniques of the swords. who . one foot on the shore and one on the boat. Wong with a twelve foot Dragon Pole against Leung’s pair of eighteen inch butterfly swords. watching Wong Wa Bo very closely. The match was fought on the stage of the Red Junk. He summoned the others. if Leung could beat Wong in a friendly match. Despite the almost simultaneous block and attack. In desperation. and then boarded the boat. and began to push with his pole as hard as he could. and it was agreed that. and went to a Red Junk performance to see for himself. Wong found it very difficult to defend against the swift. Wong Wa Bo became his prized student. he could not move the boat. which they called Weng Chun Kuen (“Everlasting Spring Boxing”) to disguise its Shaolin origins. Even he was unable to make a difference. began to rock the boat. but noticed a few technical faults which he felt he could correct. he was a master of the dragon pole. and with his foot. Jee Sin. He sought suitable students to train in his continuing quest to assist the overthrow of the Manchus and the restoration of the Ming dynasty. The opera staff continued their packing. to evade detection. begging Leung to teach him the superior techniques of Wing Chun. and its prized performer. who introduced the Iron Palm training into the system. As the performers were packing up to travel on to a performance in Guangzhou. with such backgrounds. Leung Bok Cho sought a worthy student to whom to pass on the Wing Chun system. Leung Lan Kwai passed his knowledge to Leung Lee Tai. was also travelling the country. Wong Wa Bo. The poler decided that the foolish beggar was overdue for a surprise bath. preparing to shove off. the Wing Chun butterfly swords against staff. Try as he might. Wong figured he had the advantage. and integrated its principles into the technique of the six-and-a-half strike Dragon Pole. and was forced to the edge of the stage.7 Meanwhile. Among other styles. then jabbing low at Leung’s leg. Meanwhile. he was hunted by the Manchus and. Wong Wa Bo realised that the man in rags before him was no beggar. Leung knew from the fight he had chosen well. a herbalist by profession. Wong’s strike missed. still sleeping after an unusually long performance the previous evening. Finally. ignoring Jee Sin. that Wong would become Leung’s student and be taught the art of Wing Chun. and invited Leung to attack first. He had heard about his nephew Wong Wa Bo’s reputation as a performer and martial artist. Jee Sin taught the Red Junk Opera members his Kung Fu. Wong used the most deadly techniques of the pole. informed him that the Red Junks were not passenger ships. Jee Sin went to see a Red Junk performance. He had no choice but to drop his pole and concede defeat. but a man of exceptional power and skill. Next in the lineage was Leung Lan Kwai. The poler of the ship. Jee Sin approached them and asked for passage. Wong mastered the art of Wing Chun. Leung Bok Cho and Wong Wa Bo got together after the show. He respectfully invited Jee Sin aboard and begged to be taught the master’s skills. but the boat remained unmoved. thus making that weapon part of the Wing Chun system. he disguised himself as a dishevelled beggar. the best poler of all. threatening to flood it. one of very few to learn Jee Sin’s six-and-a-half-strike pole technique. and he felt the cold steel of Leung’s butterfly blade against his wrist. blocking Leung’s double slash at his head with an upward bon kwun. The Red Junk Opera members were trained in the performing and martial arts from an early age. who also thrust poles into the river bed. and Jee Sin reasoned that. Like Ng Mui. He was impressed with Wong Wa Bo’s considerable skills and enormous strength. Ng Mui’s fellow grandmaster at the temple. they could quickly be trained to become formidable fighters. The poler saw Jee Sin take up a stance. in desperation. and that the only way that Jee Sin would get to Guangzhou was by walking. seeing only a filthy tramp in rags. the poler summoned Wong Wa Bo. The disguised Jee Sin began to laugh.

Leung Jan had chosen his sons. accepting him as a disciple. only to find himself soundly beaten. Leung became annoyed by Yip Man’s criticism. This fear manifested itself after the deaths of Leung Jan and Leung Cheun. Leung Jan was famous for his Iron Palm technique. twelve years old at the time. seeking acceptance as a disciple. and declared himself grandmaster of Wing Chun Kung Fu. as his successors. Leung Bak. and then accepted Yip Man as a student of the Traditional Wing Chun system. he continued to teach only the modified version of Wing Chun to Chan. William Cheung Cheuk Hing. Leung Jan became aware of this very early in the piece. The old man was Leung Bak. Leung Bak explained to Yip Man the story of the modified Wing Chun system which was taught to Chan Wa Soon. and intentionally modified the techniques he taught to his sons to reduce their effectiveness whenever Chan was watching. a neighbouring money changer. Yip Man became a skilled fighter with a considerable reputation. He stayed with Leung Bak for four years. Then Yip Man. as did many of his contemporaries. Chan began to teach the modified version of Wing Chun to selected students. Yip Man. with Chan. Impressed with Yip Man’s commitment. Chan Wa Soon. Yip Man moved to Hong Kong. from Fatshan. Yip Man was put up in a small apartment there.8 then passed it on to Leung Jan. challenged and defeated his seniors. with the impetuosity of youth. leaving his fortune behind. he only accepted eleven students. . Though Yip Man was older and less powerful than Leung Shan. Leung Bak went to Hong Kong. was greatly interested in Leung Jan’s Kung Fu and began to spy on Leung Jan and his sons while they were practising. After Chan’s death. and challenged him. The communist uprising forced Yip Man to flee Fatshan for Macau. One night in 1951. driving the surviving son. and marched him home to confront them. a master of Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) Kung Fu found Yip Man living there in impoverished circumstances. occasionally criticising the techniques taught by Leung Shan. a famous herbal doctor in Fatshan. Through some martial arts colleagues. However. the hitherto lost surviving son of Leung Jan. Chan accepted him as his final disciple. Leung Jan became impressed with Chan’s keen interest. Yip Man then revealed himself as the grandmaster of Wing Chun. and would occasionally watch the classes. Leung Shan ran a Kung Fu school on the premises of the restaurant workers’ union in Hong Kong. he was introduced to an eccentric old man renowned for his Kung Fu ability. came to Chan with three hundred pieces of silver. a much larger and more powerful man. There he discovered that Yip Man had indeed saved the money on his own. without intending offence. and took Leung Shan as the first of a small number of disciples. Yip Man took no students. Leung Bak and Leung Chuen. After four years of study with Chan Wa Soon. Chan assumed the boy had stolen the coins from his parents. because he feared that Chan would dispute the grandmaster titleship of Wing Chun with his sons after his (Leung Jan’s) death. and then returned to Fatshan. challenged the old man. Despite his reputation an popularity as a Kung Fu exponent. and took him to Hong Kong. While respected throughout China for his Kung-fu skills. Eventually. However. the latter could not match the techniques of Wing Chun and was easily overcome. Leung Shan. who included the late Bruce Lee and the current Traditional Wing Chun grandmaster.

It is for use when we or others are under threat of violence. severely injured or dead. fear. rather than a first. it needs to be understood by the student that Kung Fu’s primary purpose is self protection. real fights may end in injury or death. But the potential for misuse of the capability for violence of Kung Fu requires that we use it as a last. Any second thoughts or philosophical principles that restrict your tactics in a streetfight will be giving your opponent an advantage. To win a streetfight demands that you meet the attack on your person with equal. preferably greater. and breathing and meditation exercises. Philosophy and Reality. we must look more closely at the underpinning philosophies of Chinese culture. Confucianism and Buddhism. “Anyone who believes in the [Marquis of] Queensbury rules in the street had better be fully insured. Proper training provides us with means for the reduction of stress through physical activity. The training in a Kung Fu school goes only part of the way to prepare a student to deal with real world attacks. Streetfights stop when one side is unable to continue helpless. However. but this will be a matter of luck as much as anything else. Kung Fu without its traditional and philosophical basis would be little more than a brutal and inhuman science of injury. to do so would be to prostitute it. unconscious. Philosophising over respect for one’s opponent or strict adherence to Buddhist or Taoist principles in the middle of a streetfight is likely to earn the practitioner a ride in an ambulance. you cannot afford your opponent ANY advantage. fighting for survival. or any sense of fair play. aggression and pain in a controlled environment. In ancient China as well as in large cities today. Streetfights are not stopped because one of the combatants cuts or injures themselves. and that you are prepared to act immediately to render your opponents unable to continue their attack. . often best done by flooding your system with adrenalin. with Kung Fu being no exception.” A mugger or other assailant is unlikely to share your Taoist and Buddhist principles. There are no rules and no guarantees. these only go some of the way to preparing us for the enormous emotional and physical duress of an encounter with someone wishing to damage us. starting with the teachings of Taoism. We learn to deal with combat. While club sparring and tournaments are conducted under rules and within limits. group attacks and group stompings are all very real possibilities. So most martial arts. that you overcome your fear and pain in a violent attack. resort. not as a means to intimidate or coerce others. and with complete ruthlessness. Any other course also prostitutes the art. cannot be ignored or overlooked. fair or unfair. Indeed. ferocity. While we learn efficient fighting techniques. with varying degrees of contact. In the case of Kung Fu and Wing Chun. iron bars). or because they run out of breath. If your life is potentially at stake. knives. all such assumptions are off in a streetfight. As Sifu David Crook wrote. The winner(s) may stop short of kicking the loser to death when he is down. and practise these in various drills. involve discipline and attempt to instil their devotees with a grounding in the traditions and related philosophies of the art. clawing and gouging. The fundamental purpose of our art. Real and improvised weapons (chains. death and destruction. and develop discipline and tolerance.9 Philosophy. by any means necessary. biting.

but by swimming with it. Where a powerful but rigid oak tree may be split by a hurricane. and the boatman is unable to avoid a collision which damages his craft and his belongings therein. A boat manned by another drifts directly into his path. but by accepting and yielding to the forces around one. ego. condition our attitudes. with persecution of the masses an everyday occurrence. The Buddha’s teachings and doctrine proposed a disregard for self and materialism. One lives in harmony with the Tao. and desire . unhappiness. perceptions and beliefs. Now imagine the same boatman on the same river. not by resisting or trying to overcome the world. these are generally simple and . or more precisely in harmony with the natural laws of the universe. Imagine a boatman. social and religious rituals. Taoism promotes the concept of the “Uncarved Block”. a blade of grass bends with the wind and survives undamaged. Taoism contends that such a state is unnatural. Once again. birth. inept pilot of the other boat. Years of education. Rather than confronting a superior force. Living in accordance with Wu Wei and the Tao is to become like the empty boat. existence and death. he is unable to avoid a collision. after which the natural order will be restored. yield to it. This was a difficult concept for most of Lao Tzu’s contemporaries to understand during the time of the Warring States. particularly for those of us involved with confrontations and violence. depicting man in his natural state of existence. that fulfilment and peace are forever beyond us unless we free ourselves from our conditioned responses to the stimuli of the world and return to our true nature.life is an endless. The doctrine of Taoism is concerned with living in harmony with nature. media hype. but redirects it to his own advantage. death and rebirth is called Samsara. This cycle of birth. This is not a philosophy of indolence. unspoiled by social conditioning.put simply. The Wing Chun fighter does not oppose a stronger force directly. unreal cycle of pain. • This suffering has a cause . though a particular Taoist parable seems to point in the right direction. instead emphasising subsequent lives and the eventual deliverance from the eternal cycle of life and suffering which is human existence. ignorance.though some sects of Buddhism have spun this out into a complex web of predestination and cause and effect. This time an empty boat drifts into his path. and we are bound to it by the consequences of our actions (karma). with various actions incurring various credits and debits to a karmic account which must be paid off in future lifetimes.10 Taoism. steering a small craft down a difficult waterway. unresisting. not in the achievements and endeavours of the society. The experienced waterman survives dangerous seas not by fighting against a current stronger than he. nor of turning the other cheek. or “The Four Noble Truths”. The angry boatman hurls abuse at the foolish. but rather of doing nothing which is contrary to the nature of things. nor the doctrines and dogmas of education and organised religion. cultural forces. or non-action. and suffering. Buddhism. and. illusory. thus allowing it to unbalance itself. Salvation and enlightenment are to be found. The foundations of his teaching are “The Four Basic Truths of Buddhism”. Taoism also promotes the concept of Wu Wei. While all of have basic needs. which are: • All life is suffering . I too find Wu Wei a difficult concept. but this time there is no one to blame. in modern times. until he is out of danger.

and religion. not as evils to be rejected or overcome. and we must form a simple honest relationship with it. Not so desire .11 easily met. We need not lie. It concerns itself with standards of social behaviour. which we chase blindly.we need to renounce our tendency to complicate issues. including government. stepping off the wheel of Samsara and entering the state of Nirvana.we approach spiritual training not as a struggle. and commerce. unlike our needs. with attention to detail. Right effort . we still want more. we no longer need to attempt to coerce or manipulate others to meet our expectations of the way things should be. We are mindful of the tiniest details of our experience. we will be constantly diverted from our higher goals due to the profusion of attractions all around. constant practice. right now. bluff. We have a simple straight-forward relationship with our job. Right mindfulness . attachment.we should earn our living.if we allow it to remain uncontrolled. we need not be guarded about our speech. unadorned reality. Confucianism wholeheartedly embraces human relationships. Only a discipline such as seated meditation can give us a way to silence our internal chatter and concentrate on simple. . Right view . Right intention . which advocate detachment from the mundane ways of the social world and attuning one’s spirit with loftier principles. Right speech .called the Eightfold Path. forgetting our original destination. 2. The teachings of Confucius are set down in a number of classic texts. not allow it to define us. Unlike Taoism and Buddhism. 7. Our intentions are pure. morals and virtues in copious low level detail. and fear. by renouncing desire.If we can abandon our expectations. And. without prejudice. We work with what is. with evil inside ourselves which must be conquered. We cultivate precision and clarity. speculation. but with simple. self-preoccupation and self-entertainment. our house and our family. Our work is important. the way we work. 5. simply and genuinely. speech. We say what is necessary. abandoning expectations. right here. 3. practising simplicity. contrasting again with the principles and truths of Buddhism and Taoism. We give up all the unnecessary and frivolous complications which complicate our lives and relationships. 8. which are small in number but transcendental in scope. We work with things and ourselves as they are.we cultivate awareness of everything we do. desires. most notably the Spring and Autumn annals and the Analects of Confucius. Right discipline . our hopes and fears. 6. morals. We look for a simple relationship with our work. Right livelihood . the latter being a large collection of aphorisms on all aspects of life. 4. hope.seeing the world and ourselves as they really are.normally our minds are absorbed with all manner of internal chatter. Right concentration . desire can never be satisfied. • A way exists to attain this liberation and the state of Nirvana . social structures.if our intentions are pure. dispensing with the image or social status with which our profession may be regarded in society. it will control us. viewing life simply. Right concentration means that we are completely absorbed in things as they are. politics. and the illusion of self. • Liberation from suffering is possible. even if we have everything. attitude. or put on airs and graces in an attempt to impress or manipulate. Its eight aspects are: 1. Confucianism. and perform our jobs properly.

or Book of Changes. a taste (acrid. The followers of Mao Tse-Tung in particular denounced Confucianism as an obstacle to technological advance. He noticed at various times the ascendancy of different types of life. later. respect within families. Indeed. and order in the chaos of existence. righteousness. This concept of five elements or types applies to all types of things and ideas. heart. Also. foods. Confucianism’s emphasis on chivalry and other more macho concepts had greater appeal than did the more feminine. kidneys. even at its most abundant. or invisible energy channels. Wood. salt. For example. The ancient Chinese. and their associated colours. weak. Yang is positive. fire . some believe him to be the author of the I Ching itself. Neither can exist without the other. like their modern counterparts. water . Water. The most powerful principle used to explain the cause and effect of events was that of the interplay of Yin and Yang. metal blades appeared in the waters of the palace. South.white. earth . North. sweet). Despite the grander scale and loftier rewards offered by Taoism and Buddhism. liver. so events occur in cycles.red. Confucius is also thought by many historians to have written lengthy commentaries on the I Ching. Chinese Medicine is based on the five elements and their balance or harmonious interaction. and each. sour. The Doctrine of Yin and Yang. and similar related categories for every imaginable attribute of reality emotions. and their authorship remains a hot topic in historical circles. at one time.yellow). Largely illiterate. West. and therefore social evolution. Simplistically. and Earth. animals. Each element corresponds to a Yin organ (lung. In a person in good health.green. strong. Undoubtedly the etiquette we practise in the Kung Fu school derives a great deal from the teachings of Confucius. it was easy to exchange one set of rituals for another. spleen) and Yang organ (colon. Confucianism came under attack in the early half of the twentieth century in some sections of Chinese society after they came off second best in several major confrontations with more technologically advanced Occidental and Japanese invaders. grass and trees were abundant. and the Principles of Chinese Medicine.12 The teachings emphasise virtue and morality in government. with each element is associated a colour (metal .black. Confucianism was more easily grasped and therefore more readily accepted by the masses. contains the seed of the other. and used to rituals and conformity in religion and under feudal rule. wood . principle and purpose in the changing pattern of events around them. who first documented the cyclical nature of existence and its manifestation in the Five Elements: Metal. receptive. Later. and then diminishing. ch’i or internal energy flows through meridians. yielding ideas of Taoism. Elaborate and lengthy rules for conduct in social situations typify the teachings. creative. etc. bitter. the Yellow Emperor. East. But also we must consider the moral environment under which such skills are taught. small intestine. a direction (in order. and proper conduct in social situations. sought a way to understand and explain the world around them. bladder. the force of Wood in full ascendancy. Centre). the force of Earth being strong. It was the legendary Huang-Ti. On the other hand. there is no indisputable evidence that he actually wrote any of the texts attributed to him. As Yin and Yang compete and cooperate in the manifestation of all things. two opposite but complementary forces whose relationship and mutual ascendancies are continually changing. earthworms and burrowing insects were abundant. stomach). and the emphasis place on the correct image of the martial arts and the proper conduct and discipline of its exponents in daily life. and so on. passive. to nourish all parts and organs of the body. Fire. with various attributes and tendencies gaining ascendancy. gall bladder. senses. Yin is negative. active. Illness results from blockages or imbalances in the .

In esoteric terms. and destructive power. • This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven. its effective use requires serious study and a certain amount of hand. The use of such points is known as Dim Mak.. it may involve dietary recommendations or an alteration to one’s routine. or earth. water in turn nourishes plants (wood). Diagnosis of a patient’s maladies involves an external examination. An adept practitioner can channel his ch’i to vastly augment his/her strength. including the quality of the pulse etc. On the other hand. While invisible and intangible. and earth soaks up water. conditioning to be able to strike with the power and accuracy necessary to cause the desired effect. certain skull fractures may not cause immediate apparent trauma but may result in death later as cerebra-spinal fluid gradually seeps from the skull.13 flow of ch’i. The use of Dim Mak techniques to cause delayed damage or death is the subject of many Kung Fu stories. colour of their complexion etc. or life force. Almost all Eastern martial arts include exercises to develop. As many of the acupuncture points also coincide with places where the nerves are close to the skin or unprotected by muscles. etc. there is no doubt that strikes to certain areas of the body may result in only mild pain at the time. Dr Leung Jan was one. Treatment. The Philosophy of Wing Chun Kung Fu. cultivate. Water destroys fire. Fire melts metal. Further complexities will determine whether an apparent abundance of one state is caused by an overactivity of one element or the lack of another (the lack of one element allowing another to manifest itself unchecked). • One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues. etc. the smooth flow of ch’i is regulated by two cycles. . as well as herbal treatments to affect specific types of ch’i. it permeates all living creatures. A flushed complexion and temperature may mean an overabundance of fire. like diagnosis. Traditional Wing Chun has its own philosophical creed: • He who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable. Ch’i is an intrinsic energy. but may also involve evaluation of the person’s emotional state. a cold sweat on the other hand may mean too much water (or a deficiency of fire). or water. While many such stories are certainly the subject of enormous embellishment. • One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them. or the use of acupuncture. but result in severe injury or death later. and is inseparable from life itself. • One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger. wood adds fuel to the fire. metal melts to produce liquid. or moxibustion (the application of heat) to specific points on the meridians to increase or impede the flow of ch’i. Simplistically again. massage. endurance. Metal cuts down wood. is a holistic process. the Ko cycle causes the mutual retardation of the different types of energy. Knowledge of Chinese medical theory and the location of specific acupuncture points is of great value to the advanced Kung-Fu practitioner. it is possible to cause significant pain with accurate point strikes or claw techniques to these areas. The Sheng cycle produces and augments the different types of chi within the body. Many of the Kung Fu masters of old were also medical practitioners. leading to an overabundance or deficiency of the energy corresponding to a particular element or elements. store and channel ch’i. and from fire comes ashes. Wood overruns the earth. as it allows him to control or damage an opponent with far greater efficiency by attacking the acupuncture points.

conflict of a sort arises when two people who live together want to watch different television programs at the same time. rational being .pain. a skilled and experienced opponent will be unaffected by appearance or demeanour. However. not your snarling teeth or deaths-head tattoos. resulting either in rushing in. taking on an opponent or opponents due to wounded pride that in a more lucid moment we know we should run from. and self control. He who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues. adrenalin. Taoism. creating openings which can be exploited by a calmer. to use psychology on an opponent rather than smashing his face in.he seeks to avoid it wherever possible. remorse . often. or in losing control of ourselves and causing unjustified pain or injury. Generally his life will be more fruitful and less stressful. its potentially fatal risks. Realising the risks involved and the potential costs .14 My analysis of these maxims follows. He who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable. Cultivating an overly imposing appearance or aggressive personality may evoke fear or resentment in others. criminal charges. A person of calm disposition and unremarkable appearance has greater opportunity to move in a variety of circles without attracting unwanted attention. out of control. The excellent fighter realises the true nature of combat. as others will be more comfortable in dealing with someone who looks and acts like a calm. Anger is the enemy of control. and the potential need for massive and total retaliation in the face of a truly lethal threat. where an opponent of more belligerent appearance may provoke a more ferocious initial attack. We watch one program. Conflict can often be resolved through negotiation. and the fight or flight reaction within himself and allows them to carry him through. resulting in guilt and remorse at best. injury. The practice of martial arts and its underlying philosophies (Buddhism. He will be watching your elbows and knees. A warrior understands that a dominant or frightening persona will not generally assist him in meeting his goals. He will try to resolve potential conflicts using his brain rather than his fists. criminal charges or violent retribution at worst. one may find oneself the first target in a brawl. everyone involved can win. While a skilled fighter generates and recognises emotion. Conflict is not necessarily violent. not to allow oneself to become consumed by them. Anger causes overreaction. I have already discussed the true nature of combat. the point is to consciously channel the emotions to achieve victory. . and tape the other. thinking fighter. or even a massive preemptive strike. the warrior of non-threatening appearance may be able to take advantage of an enemy’s complacency. confidence. He who excels as a fighter is never aroused in anger. Buddhism also advises us to practise detachment. which is impossible when we are burning with anger. and provoke attack rather than submission. To do so requires awareness. rather than an attack dog or steroid monster. he will be unimpressed by your Special Forces T-shirt and belligerent facial expression. Confucianism) teach us respect for others. Human interaction often involves conflict. If one presents as a person of violent bent. If a combat situation arises. Strategy and tactics demand the ability to analyse the situation rapidly. only with your fighting techniques and strategy.

This is a complicated ethical area. it is not for us to impose our will and desires on others using our fighting skills as an inducement or threat to force submission. One of the urban myths of martial arts. It is important that a boss or Sifu recognise and subordinate as necessary his own personal traits and preferences to lead effectively. He who excels in employing others humbles himself before them. with enough real instances to back it up. To involve oneself unasked in the affairs of others is patronising. and association is the foundation of a free society. only to have the enraged wife attack her would-be rescuer (after which the husband joins in as well). but not to punish others. even if we disagree. While we should attempt to conduct our affairs in harmony with its philosophies. . You and others have a right to defence. Freedom of thought. Friendships between bosses and subordinates certainly may arise. It may be better to act to defuse the overall level of violence rather than to take sides . The martial artist is not a superhero and. This probably takes more than one person. Block and restrain the aggressors rather than flattening them. but if the friendship and the working relationship should conflict. However. through their fear of bearing bad news. the police usually being the best bet. One who rules through fear or authoritarian methods may find that his employees. we are morally bound to use our art in the defence of others. Humility before one’s employees certainly does not mean acquiescing to their whims and desires.15 Respecting others includes allowing them to carry out their own affairs. Respect given to subordinates by a boss does not imply informality or over-familiarity. may hide or distort information he needs to act and decide effectively. To do so is to trivialise our art and our training. even more so than when we are personally attacked. is the practitioner attempting to break up a fist-fight between husband and wife by attacking the husband. An effective working relationship requires boss and employee to respect each other’s person.try to talk the combatants down. one or the other may well suffer. leading to ineffective management of the work at hand. We must respect the opinions and wishes of others. neither its cause nor the guilt or innocence of any involved parties is usually apparent. or through resentment. Guilt and punishment are matters for the law. as they get to know each other on a personal level. nor an abrogation of one’s role as leader and decision maker. When one comes upon a fight in progress. not an officer of the law. People learn and grow through fighting their own battles. Kung Fu is for defence. for situations where body and soul are under threat. but indicating approval of rational action and discussion. the value of their ideas and the contributions of their labour. common sense indicates a withdrawal. usually. subjects. but also the nature of the relationship and their roles within that relationship. showing disapproval towards violence from either side. An atmosphere of mutual respect is the only environment in which effective communication is possible. be they a dominant tendency leading to the stifling of his subordinates. and calling for reinforcements. and giving them the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts. etc. If you are outnumbered or outgunned. even the most proficient martial artist would be better getting out of there. or a desire to be liked. No doubt both sides of the conflict would argue (and probably believe) that theirs was the just cause. probably leading to a breakdown in both. A good leader recognises the contributions of others. opinion. If a brawl is in progress. and wading in full bore against one side or the other while ignorant of the facts may later prove to be a mistake.

the majority of Chinese were as involved with war. . even in Europe the rules of social etiquette were originally developed as a set of conventions for interacting with real or potential rivals without resorting to violence.16 Rather. the union of opposites. indeed. and to act accordingly. or for their approval. and the virtues of non-action (non-contention). the illusory world of conflict and emotion. This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of Heaven. provoking fights (contention) is not a recipe for long life. Buddhism teaches respect for all sentient beings. whether perpetrator or casualty. and detachment from desires and Samsara. as they were with culture. Philosophy then. Taoism teaches the oneness of all things. Until recent times. living in harmony with the Way and the natural order of things. common sense indicates that in times of lethal conflict. as well as practicality. Confucianism teaches benevolence and the way of civilised interaction. Survival was a continual preoccupation. humility means that an employer puts the welfare of the group and of the enterprise as a whole before his own wishes for power over others. Students of Kung Fu were taught skills of violence for the protection and survival of themselves and their society. indicates that a path of non-violence leads to a long and peaceful existence.

. disguised as a cook. and took up the challenge. She then taught him the Wing Chun system. demonstrating that she spoke the truth. more acrobatic movements. This story also has it that the dragon pole’s original form was that of the oars or poles used to guide the Junk. with Ng Mui being the only survivor after the Manchu attack. some say that Yim Wing Chun made a living as a professional fighter. This theory clashes with that of the role of Jee Sin teaching Dragon Pole to Wong Wa Bo. with the snake’s darting and coiling moves evading the crane’s beak. Another version says that he had joined the Red Junk earlier. Leung Bok Cho was said to be a master of a Northern style. with the arms and leg detachable so they could be hidden from prying Manchu eyes while the Junk was in port. Legend has it that Ng Mui based the Bon Sao (wing arm) on the crane’s movement. wagering her hand in marriage (she was a woman of uncommon beauty) against an adversary’s money. providing the more compact and direct art of Wing Chun with an advantage over the Northern Chinese styles which used wider stances and larger. Other stories have it that Yim Wing Chun was the witness of the fight between the two animals. Some say that Jee Sin was related to Wong Wa Bo and the Dragon pole was passed to him as a normal family heritage. but that Wing Chun was as smitten by him as he by her. It is said also that the fight took place on a small raised platform. some have five masters developing the Wing Chun style within the temple to train a revolutionary army. Rather than the unnamed gangster being the catalyst for Ng Mui teaching Yim Wing Chun combat arts. Rather than there being five masters who escaped the burning of the Shaolin Temple. from whom descends Hung Gar style (“Hung Family Boxing”). Leung Bok Cho was smitten by her. having fallen in love with Leung Bok Cho.17 Appendix A. while the crane swept the snake’s strikes away with skilful use of its wings. passing it on to a descendent named Mui Min. When she later revealed this to him. intentionally allowed him to defeat her. Others have it that Wing Chun. One account has it that the modern dummy was invented on the Red Junk with the mast forming the body of the dummy. Some say he was beaten. he laughed at the notion. Some versions have Yim Wing Chun’s father as a Shaolin-trained practitioner. and she married him anyway. Ng Mui is also credited by some as having developed the White Crane (Pak Hok) style of Kung Fu. Jee Sin is also credited with teaching Kung Fu to Hung Hay Gung. The following variations to the history detailed in my thesis have been mentioned by one reporter or another. A story is told of Ng Mui witnessing a battle between a crane and a snake (some say a fox). rather than being initiated via the encounter on the Red Junk. and say he taught the art to her and Leung Bok Cho. but Wing Chun invited him to fight again and beat him convincingly. and the Fok Sao (bridging arm) on the snake (or the paw of the fox).

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